Bianca Jagger: “In Nicaragua an attack is happening against the press and human rights organizations”
Translated from BBC Mundo, Dec 17, 2018
[Spanish at: https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-46595823 ]
Nicaragua is ending a particularly turbulent year, under the threat of sanctions on the part of the US, and human rights activists denouncing an increase in the repression.
Last week the US Congress approved a law that orders its representatives in international financial organizations to oppose new loans or technical assistance programs for Nicaragua, and ordered sanctions against “all those responsible and accomplices” in acts of corruption and human rights violations in that country.
But the measure, colloquially known as the Nica Act – that still has to be enacted by President Donald Trump – so far has only appeared to provoke what Bianca Jagger, President of the Pro Defense of Human Rights foundation that bears her name, describes as a “true assault” on independent journalism and human rights organizations in the largest of the Central American countries.
Jagger – who also is a member of the leadership council of Amnesty International and a good will ambassador for the European Council – is undoubtably one of the voices that has made the biggest effort to make visible on the international level what has been happening in Nicaragua since April 19th.
BBC Mundo talked with her in London about the situation in her native country, nearly eight months after the start of the wave of protests against the government of President Daniel Ortega that now totals at least 325 deaths, and that has been denounced by the president as a coup attempt against him.
How difficult has it been to keep attention on what is happening in Nicaragua?
Sincerely, I am surprised at the lack of interest of the media on what is happening in Nicaragua, because the attack on human rights, the crimes against humanity that are being committed by Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice president Rosario Murillo, are maybe, I would say, even worse that what occurred and is occurring in Venezuela.
Only in these last days we have seen a true assault on human rights organizations and communications media in which they have taken legal status away from nine organizations: they have even attacked the most important and prestigious human rights organization in Nicaragua, CENIDH (Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights), they have taken the equipment and have occupied the offices of Confidencial and trampled over Carlos Fernando Chamorro, who is one of the most respected journalists of Nicaragua.
But in spite of all this and of everything that is happening, the persecution of the students – today there are 50 students in jails and more than 600 prisoners who are being tortured and facing false accusations,, who are being condemned of terrorism, which is absurd – and in spite of the strategy of repression against a civilian population which is unarmed, it is difficult to keep the attention of the media on what is happening in Nicaragua.
What evidence do you have for these accusations?
What do you mean “what evidence”? There are the reports of Amnesty International, the reports of the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights. You have there the High Commissioner (of the United Nations) for Human Rights who are putting out reports all the time. And I am talking with people who are taking with students that I personally knew, and that right now are in jails, where they are being tortured.
So why do you believe it is so difficult for the world to pay attention to the issue?
I do not know. Maybe because we are a small country, or because there are so many attrocities that exist in the world. Of course, in the case of England, Latin America is a little farther away from this country, we have not been part of its colonies. But (the problem) is not just England.
Now, I think that little by little some attention is being paid to it again, by the fact that at this moment there is a very serious abuse and persecution in Nicaragua. Because there are journalists who they have put in jail or they have forced to leave Nicaragua, there are human rights defenders who they are persecuting, they are trampling.
I have been a defender of human rights for the last four decades, and I have been in countries like Bosnia, Irak, Afghanistan, Guatemala and El Salvador, where there were terrible atrocities. And I can tell you that what is happening in Nicaragua is something terrible and alarming and that the international community should condemn, should make public.
I am calling on the High Commissioner of the United Nations for Human Rights, former President Michelle Bachelet: please, we need your voice, we need you to condemn Daniel Ortega, we need you to request that he allow you to enter Nicaragua…
And are condemnations enough?
We also need sanctions. We need sanctions to be imposed from the International Community, on the part of the European Union, Canada, on the part of all those who have economic relations with Nicaragua, but sanctions on individuals, that the Magnitsky act be employed, because the Magnitsky act does not just exist in the United States: the United Kingdom has it, Canada has it, the EU could expand it.
And we need the Democratic Charter ( of the Organizations of the American States) to be imposed on Nicaragua, and for that we need the vote of the Central American countries, and those islands of the Caribbean who still refuse to condemn Daniel Ortega.
We really need the united International Community to condemn and impose these sanctions, because if this continues, we are going to have many more extrajudicial killings, many more human rights abuses, much more persecution of the press, persecution of students, persecution of peasants, persecution of the Catholic Church, even the doctors who refuse to obey the orders of the Minister of Health to not provide medical services to those wounded in the protests.
For now the country most ready it seems to apply sanctions is the United States, with the so called Nica Act. Does this seem productive or counterproductive to you?
It seems to me very productive, because it is not just the Nica Act but also a Magnitsky – a US law that allows sanctioning foreign citizens who have committed human rights abuses – for Nicaragua, and this is designed to punish those who are guilty of corruption, and are accomplices of crimes against humanity. I think that they did not expect this, and I think that the Magnitsky is a very sophisticated system, that does not necessarily do damage to the humanitarian situation of Nicaraguans, but is specific for guilty people, which is important.
I was asking you because if the US acts alone, unilaterally, it can give credibility to the argument of the government of Nicaragua that everything that is happening in the country is part of an organized conspiracy from Washington…
That is why I am calling for all countries to unite. It is important that the EU act in a more forceful way, it is very important that the Latin American countries, in addition to the 21 who have already condemned (the government of Nicaragua), to take concrete actions, sanctions. This should not be only the United States, it should be the united international community that does it, that takes actions against the guilty ones.
And what should be the objective of those sactions? Early elections, as was asked at the beginning of the protests, a purification of the electoral tribunal as it seems is being asked now?
Everything that you just said, but the first condition, I think, should be that Daniel Ortega should free all the political prisoners. Second, that all the extrajudicial executions be ended, that the persecution of journalists, human rights workers and the civilian population be ended. That is paramount. But also it is important that Daniel Ortega hand over power, because there cannot be free elections in Nicaragua with Ortega in power.
How important is this issue to you personally?
I was born in Nicaragua and I am Nicaraguan and British. I have never cut my connections with Nicaragua, they have always been latent, I have always been concerned about what is happening in Nicaragua, and all this has made me feel even more Nicaraguan. But in addition I feel personally wounded, I feel personally betrayed, because I also believed in the Sandinsta Revolution, as did millions of youth around the world, from Nicaragua and Latin America, and seeing that this man has betrayed all the principles, everything in which we believed.
And it also hurts me to see these students that I have known, that have asked me, “Doña Bianca, help us”, and they send me videos where you can see how they are attacking them and how they are bleeding out, when they do not have any weapon to defend themselves. What I saw in Bosnia was a terrible experience, and I have also seen horrors in El Salvador and Guatemala, but Nicaragua is my country, it is my stomping ground. And seeing that they have an unarmed struggle hurts me even more.